Academic journal article Science Scope

Environmental Decision Making in Our Backyard

Academic journal article Science Scope

Environmental Decision Making in Our Backyard

Article excerpt

To stimulate interest in their local environment and the effects that individuals have on it, we engaged sixth-grade students in an investigation of how nonnative species affect native species and their environment. Through a simulation activity and reading news articles, students analyzed and evaluated the risks and benefits of their actions on their environment. This activity reinforced good science practices and gave students the opportunity to see how their decisions about environmental issues affected their community. (See "Turtle Conservation and Citizen Science" in this issue for another invasive-species activity.)

Learning about new neighbors

Day 1: The simulation

We began our lesson by asking students to think about and respond to the following question: "How can one animal's behavior affect other animals in a habitat?" As students verbally responded to the question, we encouraged them to use scientific terminology and define terms as they were used. Terms that we made a point of discussing were habitat, native species, and nonnative species. Prior to this lesson, students had an understanding of food chains, food webs, predators and prey, and animal adaptations. After our discussion, the class went outside and participated in a modified Project Learning Tree activity, Birds and Worms (PLT 2011), which we called New Neighbors.

As directed in the original Birds and Worms activity, students were placed in four groups of approximately six students per group, and asked to pretend they were bird families; each group was named after a bird native to our community in south Florida. Each family of birds was instructed to race to one of many designated areas on the playground in order to collect "worms," which were represented by different-colored pipe cleaners. We used colored pipe cleaners that did not match the ground cover (yellow, white, blue, and red) and darker ones that matched (brown, black, and dark green). Students were instructed that they would participate in a relay-type activity where each member would take turns racing to the designated area, grabbing one worm, and racing back to the family. After each member returned to the family, the next person in line ran to collect a worm until each "bird" participated. After all students had a chance to gather a worm, groups were asked to examine the color of worms they collected and represent their worms using a bar graph. Students were also asked to discuss among their group why they believed they collected the worms they did (e.g., "Why did we only pick up the white and yellow ones when we were running?").

After all of the groups completed their bar graphs and finished discussing their worms, we had students show their graphs to the class. They were asked to describe the worms they collected and explain why they thought they collected those worms. Students made statements such as "The bright worms showed up on the grass better," "The bright worms were easier to see when we were racing," "The darker ones were hidden," and "The green, brown, and black worms blended into the grass." After we reminded students to use correct science terms as they discussed what happened, they made statements such as "We were the predator and the worms were prey. We were able to find the bright ones easier so we ate those first," and "The darker worms were able to survive and reproduce because they were not eaten by predators. They were camouflaged. We all had food to eat so we did not starve."

Next we asked the bird families to repeat the relay race a second time. This time, however, we gave each student an index card. Some students received blank index cards, while others received Loss of Habitat cards (see Figure 1). We distributed one Loss of Habitat card to every third student. The Loss of Habitat card informed students that there was a shortage of food in their area (due to a new building destroying a location where they normally collect food), so their group would have to fly farther than its usual feeding ground to get food. …

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